Street racing is being blamed for a multivehicle crash on the 5 Freeway in Commerce early Saturday that left three people dead and shut down the highway in both directions.
The drivers of two vehicles were racing in the southbound lanes near Washington Boulevard shortly after midnight Friday, when one of them lost control of his vehicle and veered into a UPS big-rig, authorities said. The UPS truck slammed into the center divider, then flipped over into the northbound lanes and collided with several oncoming vehicles, causing an explosion, said Sgt. Luis Mendoza of the California Highway Patrol.
Three people died at the scene and four others were injured, Mendoza said.
Dealio Lockhart, 35, of Whittier, identified as one of the suspected street racers, was arrested at the scene and will face vehicular manslaughter charges, according to a statement from the California Highway Patrol.
CHP Officer Alex Rubio said Lockhart admitted to investigators that he had been racing.
Lockhart, who was driving a Dodge Challenger, was racing the driver of a Dodge Charger at the time of the crash, authorities said. Lockhart tried to swerve around a slower vehicle, applied his brakes and lost control of his car, crashing into the UPS truck and triggering the fiery pileup.
The big rig became airborne and hit a gray Nissan, shearing its top off, before coming to rest atop a red Ford Explorer on the northbound side of the freeway, according to the CHP statement.
The male driver of the big rig and two women in the Nissan died at the scene, CHP Officer Tony Polizzi said.
Mendoza said the driver of the big rig appeared to be a white male adult in his 50s while the dead women "looked like they were in their very low 20s … very young."
Kyle Peterson, a UPS spokesman, said the company would cooperate with any investigation by law enforcement and would conduct its own investigation into the incident as well.
Peterson would not disclose the name of the driver or detail his experience with the company, but said the man worked at a UPS facility in Cerritos.
Four other people were injured and transferred to local hospitals where they were in critical condition, Mendoza said.
The driver of the Charger remains at large.
"Unfortunately there's not a lot of leads, not a lot of information," Mendoza said about the search for the second car.
The CHP said that alcohol and drugs were not believed to have been a factor in the crash.
A motorist involved in the crash told KTLA-TV he was traveling north on the freeway when he saw the UPS truck "go up in the air over the center divider." Javier Gonzalez said the truck "landed in front of me and I just locked my brakes up and plowed into the truck. Everything burst into flames."
Gonzalez said he was injured when the roof of his vehicle was crushed, but he was able to get out through the back window after someone opened it for him.
All north and southbound lanes of the heavily damaged freeway between Washington Boulevard and the 710 Freeway will remain closed "until further notice," according a tweet sent by CHP Southern Division Saturday afternoon.
The Los Angeles county coronor's office said it was unlikely to identify the victims by the end of the day.
The fiery crash was the first of several that clogged the 5 Freeway early Saturday.
Around 1:47 a.m. a vehicle became trapped underneath a semi-truck on the southbound 5 near Los Feliz, Polizzi said. The incident closed multiple lanes and caused injuries, he said, but the nature of those injuries was not clear.
Then, within sight of that crash at around 3:08 a.m., a man was killed in another multivehicle collision, Polizzi said.
In that crash the victim was ejected from his car and pronounced dead at the scene, Polizzi said. The CHP closed three lanes of the freeway in both directions until just after 7:30 a.m.
"It's been crazy," Polizzi said.